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A service for auto industry professionals · Friday, January 18, 2019 · 473,965,481 Articles · 3+ Million Readers

Region 1A Holds Annual MLK Day of Action

Brisbane Tramway Company, with operations throughout Australia, was owned by a British company, but run by an anti-union American, Joseph Badger. Company tram workers wanted to unionize, and they declared their intent by wearing union badges on their watch chains on Jan. 18, 1912. This was in defiance of a company rule and the workers were promptly fired.

That night, about 10,000 people gathered to hear pro-union speeches in Market Square. Four days later, the workers were told to return to work or lose their jobs. Badger refused to meet with union supporters, sparking support from unions across Australia.

Talk of a peaceful, general strike began among 43 unions. A general strike was called on Jan. 30. By the next day, Brisbane was at a standstill. On Feb. 2, a day now known as “Black Friday,” the peaceful protest turned violent when the police refused to allow union supporters to march in the streets and used batons to attack the unionists while the police commissioner shouted “Give it to them, lads! Into them."

Support for the strike started to weaken, especially with other unions in other parts of the country didn’t send support. On Feb. 27, the workers won in arbitration the right to wear the badges, but the company refused to rehire them. The strike ended soon after, though many of the tramway workers were not rehired until the trams were taken over by the government in 1922.

Badge wearing would stay banned until 1980. While the strike’s immediate goal wasn’t reached, it was an important show of what unions could accomplish by pressuring employers, and their customers who lived in Brisbane, by shutting down the city with a general strike. That lesson would prove invaluable to Australia’s labor movement in later years. #UnionHistory #PROUAW ... See MoreSee Less

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